3 questions to Thorsten Hein - Member of theInterpharma Board and Country Division Head Pharmaceuticals Bayer Switzerland - Interpharma

Split contribution to:

12 May 2023

3 questions to Thorsten Hein – Member of theInterpharma Board and Country Division Head Pharmaceuticals Bayer Switzerland

Where do you see the most urgent challenges and problems for the healthcare sector and Switzerland as a pharmaceutical industry hub?

Let me start on a positive note. We are now living considerably longer than we were before. In addition to our greater prosperity and healthier lifestyles, this is due in part to the fact that the medicine practiced today makes much more possible than was the case a few decades ago and that Switzerland has a first-class healthcare system. And it should stay that way, because every patient should have access to the treatments they need. The challenge in that respect, however, is that all of these factors impact the financing of the healthcare system, and cost pressure both on the system as a whole and on individuals will continue to rise.

So we must urgently seek solutions for our healthcare system that would make it more efficient or effective without losing sight of the human factor at the same time – the likes of digitalization can play a key role here. But compared to other innovative countries, Switzerland is still not making the most of the opportunities that digitalization opens up as much as it could. Yet it would offer the healthcare system and those involved in it, as well as patients, many advantages, including improving treatment quality and outcomes, optimally coordinating procedures and allowing those receiving treatment to be more involved in the process. There is also tremendous potential for savings to be made: McKinsey estimates the service potential of all digitalization opportunities in the Swiss healthcare system to be CHF 8.2 billion per year.

Skepticism is rife on the other side, however: a study conducted by Deloitte last year found that almost half of respondents in Switzerland rejected the digitalization of personal health data, primarily because they feared data misuse or surveillance. In other words, people perceive or give greater weight to the potential dangers than the potential or probable benefits. This is completely different in the Nordic countries, which are regarded as pioneers of digital healthcare systems. Much of what we are only just starting to discuss here has already been accepted and implemented in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Doctors and researchers have comprehensive electronic patient files, so they can make data-based decisions for the roughly 27 million inhabitants of those countries, who have a great deal of trust in the authorities to handle their data properly.

All players in the Swiss healthcare system and beyond now face the tremendous task of generating the trust that has been lacking here in Switzerland. We need to respond to and address the concerns and offer transparent, secure and understandable solutions that offer patients concrete benefits. If people knew that digitalization and artificial intelligence could lead to faster and more correct diagnoses in radiology, for example, and that they as patients could therefore benefit from earlier and better treatment, they would probably be more open to digitalization.

What do you want to focus on in your role as a member of the Board?

At Bayer, our chief concern is to center our efforts around the patient. This focus is very important to me as a member of the Interpharma Board as well. It is essential that patients get access to the treatments they need and that give them the greatest health benefit as quickly as possible. For patients to benefit from medical advances, new treatments require fast approval procedures and rapid inclusion in the list of covered medicines.

At the same time, I want to maintain a big-picture view of the situation, particularly with regard to quality and the financing of the healthcare system. Healthcare costs are a focus of the social discussion, which is understandable at first glance in view of the rising expenditures. This discourse often overlooks or only insufficiently addresses the fact that medicines can play a significant role in shortening the duration of illnesses. Without drug treatments, many of these illnesses lead to lost workdays and hospital stays, which also result in costs borne by society. In the future, our discussions need to do a better job of balancing the outlays that are incurred on both sides against one another. I also think it is important to expand preventive measures, which can play a role in either completely avoiding some illnesses or delaying the moment when long-term care is needed.

What needs to be done to ensure that Switzerland remains attractive as a pharmaceutical hub?

In addition to the aforementioned digitalization, stable business policy and innovation-friendly framework conditions play a crucial role. As an exporting country, Switzerland depends on good international connections, functional trade relations and open markets. This is particularly true of the pharmaceutical and chemicals industry, which account for more than half of Swiss exports. So, for that reason, we need to facilitate stable trade relations with the EU and move forward with free-trade agreements with countries outside of the EU.

This also applies to international collaborative research; Switzerland can’t afford to become more isolated in this regard. After all, Switzerland’s currently limited access to the Horizon Europe research program is adversely impacting product innovation and the growth of the chemical and pharmaceutical sector.

Another important issue is the forthcoming OECD tax reform and the fact that the increased tax revenues are reinvested in Switzerland’s capabilities as a research hub to safeguard jobs and prosperity in Switzerland.

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